Automatic Asemic

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Sometimes, writing can be a visual art form.

Not the same way logo design or typography are — just the shape and flow of text itself. The letters don’t have to spell anything, they don’t even have to be letters (just look at the beautifully evocative text of the Codex Seraphinianus) in order to have meaning.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

In the Codex Seraphinianus, the artist chose to use an invented language that doesn’t map to an existing one — while he invented an alphabet to write in, these letters join together to form words that don’t mean anything. The overall feeling is of being a young child who has gotten a hold of some beautiful and inexplicable book. The child knows the words mean things to those who can read them, and it feels like there is a whole secret world of knowledge there for the unlocking. But, without that kernel of understanding — without some way to turn the jumble of shapes into something that makes sense — there is a perpetually tantalizing, mysterious feeling of knowledge kept just out of reach.

In its primary role, written language is bound by semantics. C with an A followed by a T spells “cat,” and you know the sounds each letter stands for and the small, furry animal to which they refer. Asemic writing is writing unbound by semantics. It has meaning, it can be interpreted, but these things are not subject to the rules and logic of reading. The shapes and repetition of letters are treated as a pattern, neither more nor less than the fronds of a fern or the shapes of Arabesque tile, and the feelings and images they evoke are what give them meaning. This necessarily varies from person to person — where one may read aggression in the slant of a garbled word, another may see exuberance — but this subjectivity does not mean asemic writing makes any less sense than language.

codex

A close up.

It’s just different. 

In some of the magical and spiritual disciplines I work with, language becomes more than its literal meaning, and asemic writing can be doubly so. You can take a sentence, strike out the vowels and repeating letters, then rearrange the remainder into a sigil used to focus energy and intention. A planchette can dash across a page, leaving the uncertain scrawls of a spirit in its wake, while a group of breathless observers try to find sense in the jumble of lines and shapes. Scrubbed of their literal meanings, freed from the restrictions of semantics, letters and words (or alien shapes that only suggest letters and words) can condense into something else.

There are whole areas of literature devoted to analyzing word choice. “Happy” may not always mean “joyful,” and “patience” may not always be virtuous, and its worthwhile to examine why someone chose the words that they did. Even when words no longer have meaning, this still applies. Asemic writing is still made up of the lines and arcs we associate with text, and their placement is never random — there are things to be read in the ascending slant of a line, or a ripe, bubblelike downward curve.

Even when you can’t read the words, there is meaning in them.

 

 

 

 

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